Showing posts with label Remembering. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Remembering. Show all posts

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Remembering Private Somes

Remembering Private Somes

"On the beach of 'Bloody Tarawa,' where US Marines died by the hundreds, the broken bottles, crushed boxes, soiled baby diapers are now piling up by the millions," so reads an Associated Press dispatch I happened upon while doing research for my book, "The War in the Pacific-A Retrospective." The AP reporter was describing the garbage on Red Beach in Tarawa, a beach I knew very well. It was the same beach where I had landed Marines of the 2nd Division during the first major amphibious assault, in November, 1943, of a Japanese island stronghold. I was a Navy landing craft officer, bringing Marines in my "wave groups" of Higgins Boats.


During those three days of savagery more than 6,000 men died. 1,113 were US Marines. An additional 2,500 Marines were wounded.


I sent many letters and emails to Washington, urging officials to take action, to remove this insult to the memory of all who fought and died for our country in the battle of "Bloody Tarawa."


Lacking any response, I finally decided to go there myself to get something done. I brought a camera crew with me to film a documentary, "Return to Tarawa." It's being edited by Emmy-award winner, Jay Miracle. Narration will be done by movie great, Ed Harris. The documentary is scheduled for release this summer of 2008.


Upon my arrival, I found the garbage piles much worse than I had anticipated. Also, live ammunition lies everywhere among the relics of that long ago battle. Worst of all, there are remains of American dead on that tiny island, still there after all these years, 65 years after the battle. I have one report claiming evidence of the skeletal remains of more than 200.


Our government has done nothing about any of these shameful failings---all the while garbage continues to pile up on Red Beach, as citizens persist in treating this hallowed ground as an ugly dump. And, as citizens continue to use the lagoon as a toilet, the same lagoon where American corpses had floated for several days during the battle, rotting in the 80 degree water temperature.


Following meetings with officials of the Tarawa government and our US Ambassador, I prepared an "Action Program for Tarawa," to be funded by our government which, among other objectives, will make Red Beach pristine once again, a permanent memorial.


During my week in Tarawa I had many meetings. One stands out: my meeting with "Big Louis," "the biggest man in Tarawa,"as I had been told, a six foot seven inch Australian doing business in Tarawa. While at lunch with Louis, he told me that he had acquired the complete skeleton of a US Marine named Somes. Louis showed me a photograph of the plastic liner of Somes' helmet. On it was stencilled Somes' name and rank, "Somes, pfc."


Louis had kept Somes' remains in his office for some time, waiting replies to his letters to Washington officials, asking where to send Somes. Louis was always told it couldn't be Somes he was writing about, as "Somes long ago had been returned to his home cemetery."


Louis finally decided to bury Somes in a beautiful memorial to the "Coastwatchers." near Red Beach. The memorial was located on the spot where the Japanese had beheaded the twelve New Zealander and Australian Coastwatchers who had been reporting Japanese ship movements to their Australian headquarters.


Louis marked an "x" on a dinner napkin. showing me where he had buried Somes. I visited the Memorial later that day, pacing several feet from the center of the Memorial to the location of Somes' grave, at the x" mark. I stood for a time over the unmarked grave, feeling my throat tighten as I said a silent prayer to Somes.


Every year on "Anzac Day," Louis told me, on each April 25, Austrralians and New Zealanders also "Remember Private Somes." Australian and New Zealanders understandably "remember" Somes. Somes and his fellow Americans helped prevent Japan from taking over Australia and New Zealand.


Do we in the United States have any less reason to remember Somes and his comrades-in-arms who gave their lives for our country?



Leon Cooper has had a varied work career in civilian life: inventor, with patented products used throughout the world, including a product used by all air lines that tests for the proper operation of fire alarm systems aboard their commercial airplanes; CEO of his own computer company, CFO of major corporations; now a successful writer, including co-author of an award-winning screenplay.